Christianity in the West, especially in the American South is flourishing. At least based on the number of people who would profess to be Christians. However, if religion is such a big part of our lives, why isn’t it making more of an impact on our society? The sad reality is that claims of religious commitment run high, but impact is at an all-time low. The reason: many professing Christians have mistaken views of saving faith although they verbally affirm the necessity of faith alone.
These views fall into a few different categories. One error would be the idea of faith as a mere intellectual assent to propositional truth and not an assent to such truth alongside a personal entrusting of oneself into the arms of the Savior. Far more common, however, would be views of faith that downplay or even ignore God’s demand for repentance. It is not unusual, for example, to find people calling unbelievers to trust Jesus without giving a good definition of the problem in which humanity finds itself. Sometimes, Christ is presented as if He can be added to a life without fundamentally changing that life. In such cases, there is a neglect of the doctrine of hell, the gravity of sin, the terror of God’s wrath, and the necessity of repentance.
When it comes to the fiducia of saving faith, the entrusting of ourselves to Christ alone, there can be no real turn to Christ Jesus unless we turn away from sin. Martin Luther, John Calvin, and the other magisterial Reformers emphasized repeatedly that faith and repentance go hand in hand. Scripture clearly teaches as much. Jesus’ very first message was for us to “repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:14–15, emphasis added). Acts 2:38 requires both faith and repentance for salvation.
Although we often distinguish faith and repentance for the sake of instruction, they are actually inseparable — two sides of the same coin, so to speak. Christ calls us to give up everything to follow Him, and that includes our sin and any attempt to earn favor from our good works. True repentance does not mean sinlessness in this life, but it does mean a full reorientation of one’s direction and love of self and sin, a marked turn from what opposes Christ to Christ Himself.
True faith is repentant faith, as revealed in Luke 18. The tax collector had true sorrow for his sin and faith in God’s mercy. Therefore, he was justified. The Pharisee, however, showed no repentance, thereby invalidating his profession of faith and revealing he was not justified in the Lord’s eyes.